Retro Review: Blood Diamond

Director Edward Zwick has had a long career in both television and film dating back to the late 80s with films like 1986’s David Mamet penned “About Last Night…” and 1989’s Academy Award winning film “Glory” that rocketed Denzel Washington to super star status.

Zwick excelled in television with writing and directing emotional dramas like “thirtysomething”, “Once & Again” and “Relativity”. In the 90s he brought us films like 1994’s “Legends of the Fall”, 1996’s “Courage Under Fire” and the 1998 ill-conceived terrorist drama “The Siege” which a lot people looked back on after 9/11.

His last movie 2003’s “The Last Samurai” was one of the best of that year even though it starred Tom Cruise.

Edward Zwick is one of those emerging talents that people have to start acknowledging. This guy is going to be huge and “Blood Diamond” shows us once more that this man is brilliant.

“Blood Diamond” unearths the scandalous illegal diamond trade occurring in Sierra Leone.

The film shows both sides of the scandal during the 1990s by focusing on a Mende fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) who is ripped away from his family and forced into slavery to work the diamond fields for a ruthless warlord. The other side focuses on Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a South African mercenary who smuggles the diamonds out of the country by any means necessary and is linked to high-class vendors in Europe.

Their worlds collide when Vandy escapes the fields and has hidden away a large diamond with a slight pink tinge aka a blood diamond. Vandy will not release its whereabouts and it isn’t until Archer promises to help Vandy find his family that Vandy decides to guide Archer to the diamond.

Along the way, Archer relies on reporter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) and her African Aid connections to help Vandy find his family. The country explodes around them as the duo must find a way to find the diamond.

This is DiCaprio’s year as once more he pulls together a dynamic performance as the desperate smuggler. His performance isn’t heroic but shifty and scheming. He is a desperate man in a desperate time and DiCaprio never lets us forget it. One minute he is down-right heroic and a human being and the next a man coming apart at the seams. He’s brilliant and I could almost say he is better here than he was in “The Departed”.

Djimon Hounsou is another one of those actors that has been brilliant for so long and no one ever notices. He first burst onto the scene in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 slave ship mutiny drama “Amistad” and for almost a decade Hounsou has been turning out brilliant character actor performances one after another including 2002’s “In America”.

Zwick focuses a lot on his actors and uses them as the conduit to making the film credible. I know there has been a lot of complaints about Leo’s accent in this film but the accent remains steady, accents the character and I was totally engulfed by it. Even if you see it as bad then doesn’t that also accent the shadiness of the character even more?

The long message sequences do make the film run long but they also help develop how desperate the character’s plight is. I am not sure that all of us know about illegal diamonds and their impact.

There is a brilliant sequence where either Bowen or Archer explains how Westerners see Africa and that is exactly right. And because of that sequence I think that the message parts of the film are relevant.

“Blood Diamond” is hands down one of the best films of 2006. The film’s direction, raw intensity, dynamic adventure, engaging performances, its message and breathtaking cinematography make it my favorite film of the year, thus far. This is the reason movies are made.

(5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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